Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The Call’s eyewitness report: A visit to a Cooperative


First Published: The Call, Vol. 7, No. 21, May 29, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.


Second in a series

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The tropical sun had pushed the temperature up well over 100 as we drove up the dirt road to the Ang Tasom Cooperative in Takeo Province. But the heat was forgotten, for we knew we were about to get a unique opportunity to record the daily life of the Kampuchean people.

Here was a chance to examine the new Kampuchean society and its revolution in detail–its victories as well as its unsolved problems. For, in socialist Kampuchea, the cooperative is the basic unit of society into which more than 95% of the people are organized. What better way to see what the revolution in that country is all about?

As soon as we arrived, we were welcomed and ushered into the cooperative dining hall, a spacious and attractive wooden building where Ang Tasom’s 1,300 people take their meals. Over refreshments, the leader of the Cooperative Committee, who is also a member of the Communist Party, gave us an overview of cooperative life:

“We have 3,300 hectares of rice field here (about 8,150 acres) as well as another 500 hectares we use for fruit and other crops. I must tell you we aren’t prosperous, but we’re making progress.”

We asked for details: “Last year we not only grew enough rice to feed ourselves, we also gave the state 10,000 thangs of surplus, rice (264 tons). We produced, about three tons of rice per hectare, but this year our goal is 3.5 tons.”

How did this compare to the old society, under imperialist and colonialist domination? Our host told us that the average poor peasant could only expect to eat rice four or five months out of the year in the old days; the rest of the time they had to eat wild plants to stay alive. “Now everyone has enough to eat and more,” he said.

Ang Tasom itself was leveled by U.S. B-52 bombers during the war, we were told. The people had to take refuge in the mountains nearby, where they established mutual assistance teams–the forerunners of today’s cooperatives.

Now, each family at Ang Tasom has their own house. Cooperative services include a hospital, pharmacy, schools and nurseries. Everything is free.

“We don’t use money,” our guide pointed out. “The people use what they need and contribute what they can to the cooperative and the state.”

This was very strange to us, coming from a society where indeed “money talks.” So one of our group asked how this system of exchange works.

“The state trucks come here regularly, with whatever supplies are available. Every cooperative can get goods such as sewing machines, radios, clothes, cigarettes and other items not made at the cooperative. Whatever goods there are are distributed on the basis of need. In turn, after making sure that the cooperative can feed its own people, its surplus rice is loaded into the state trucks for workers in the city and needier cooperatives.

“We distribute the supplies to those who need them. Take cigarettes for example. Since we know how many people smoke and how much they smoke, we just ask for that many cigarettes from the state.”

What if the people of Ang Tasom want 20 tractors, or what if one person insists he “needs” twice as many cigarettes as the next man?

“Our society is still very poor,” our host answered, “and there aren’t enough tractors to satisfy the needs of all the cooperatives. So we share with the whole country. Those cooperatives who supply the state with more surplus products can get more credits towards obtaining things like tractors and machines. As for the man who wants too much for himself, his neighbors and comrades will try to convince him not to be so selfish.”

We asked if our hosts thought that money would come back into usage as the industrial level developed. We were told: “The people don’t miss money now, and they find the present system satisfactory. If in the future we find it is the will of the people to go back to the money form of exchange, then we will.”

Next, we were told about how the people take part in decisionmaking at the Ang Tasom Cooperative:

“We have mass meetings right here in the dining hall every 3 days and every 10 days. Every three days, we discuss particular problems relating to the work.

“Then every 10 days, everybody gets together–even the children–and we sum up our work in all departments and set goals for the next 10 days. This is where the people raise their criticisms and suggestions, either of individuals or of policies, and where any disputes are resolved.

“At these meetings, the Party also leads the people in studying Marxism and our Party’s policies and directives. The people decide how best to apply them to our concrete conditions.”

Then we asked about the cultural and social life at Ang Tasom. What is the policy on marriage?

At this point, several people listening to our discussion joined in. “We don’t have arranged marriages anymore, or any other feudal practices like that,” said one young man. “People marry whom they choose.”

They do have to get permission from the cooperative leadership and their parents, “but only so that we can make sure they’re old enough,” added our host. “Last year, we had many marriages, and only in a few cases did we ask young couples to wait.”

We were also told that family planning is not encouraged because Kampuchea has such a small population. In addition, infant mortality has been drastically reduced. In March of this year, for instance, 36 babies were born to families at Ang Tasom–all healthy.

“What about the status of women?” we asked. “Men and women are equal here,” came the answer. “Of course, there are still problems with some male chauvinist ideas, and we must criticize this trend of thinking. But since men and women work side-by-side in the fields, the men have a lot of respect for women’s contributions.”

RECREATION

Another cooperative member told us about recreational and cultural activities. “Every 10 days is a holiday. People can either work on their house gardens, or they study. Many people, especially the young, like to take part in traditional dance and music groups here.”

We had a hundred more questions to ask, but our host suggested we take a look around. Our first stop was the cooperative kitchen. There, we saw several people preparing chicken, beef, vegetables, rice and soup for the evening meal.

Next, we visited the carpentry and iron workshops. About 30 people were hard at work in each shop, making agricultural hand tools, ploughs, and other items needed on the cooperative. Although the workers were making a variety of well constructed implements, they had no modern machinery to do it with. In the woodworking shop, we saw two men using a rope pulley to power a lathe.

One sight in particular left a great impact on us. We came across a row of neatly stacked metal hoes and asked where they got the metal to manufacture them from.

“Look over there,” said one worker, pointing. Ten feet away, we saw an unexploded 500 lb. bomb dropped by a B-52 during the U.S. bombing of Kampuchea. “They dropped so many bombs on us,” he added, “we’re still digging up some that didn’t explode.”

From our conversations that day with cooperative members and leaders, we had no doubt that the people wholeheartedly support the cooperative system.

SELF-RELIANCE

But Kampuchea is still a poor country, even by third world standards. This is a legacy of centuries of feudal backwardness and colonial domination. Kampuchea is also just emerging from the wounds of a five-year war imposed by the U.S. imperialists, a war which saw almost every village levelled by bombers, much of the good rice lands defoliated, and over a million people killed and maimed.

Socialism here is being constructed almost from scratch. With almost no heavy industry and a still-unstable agricultural base, the Kampuchean people face difficult problems in their development.

Yet they are committed to relying on their own efforts and solving problems one by one. Everyone we spoke to at Ang Tasom was confident that their country would move quickly towards greater prosperity.

We must share their confidence. These are a people who began their war of liberation with only four aged, captured rifles. Then they went on to defeat a superpower that was armed to the teeth.

Today, the masses of people have become the masters of their own destiny. Led by the Communist Party of Kampuchea, they are united and enthusiastic about the work ahead.

As we were exchanging goodbyes, our guide presented us with a guerrilla combat knife–made from a B-52 shell. “As you can see,” he told us, “U.S. imperialism is not so powerful. If we can defeat it, then you can, too.”

Another member of the Ang Tasom cooperative added, “Your visit has given us encouragement. It shows we have friends all over the world.”